The Bozeman Military Road (Platte Route)
[Note: The Bozeman Trail (Road)
starts at Fort Kearney, NE, and goes to Virginia City.]
Revised 30 March 2003
After establishing the initial trail from Fort
Laramie to the Big
and on to Virginia City in 1864, the
government took steps to create a safe haven for the emigrants traveling
through that area. This later became the Bozeman Military Road, and although it
was very short lived, the Military had a great deal to do regarding its
foundation. This article is simply a collection of some of the notes and
correspondences that allowed General Connor to take the first steps in its
construction of a segment from Fort Laramie to Powder River,
which he completed on August 11, 1865. The letters clearly state that a full
wagon road was constructed by the military from Fort Laramie to Virginia City,
via Powder River and the Big Horn River, and that the Sawyer’s route
(approved by Congress) was essentially worthless. Although this route is
labeled as the road to Virginia City, there
has been no significant record of its construction; and according to the
military field notes, maps that might have accompanied the report of its
construction were lost. The route from the Big
to ‘Clark’s Fork’, via the Pryor Mountain
– South Hill valley, was not established until 1866. Even then, this
wasn’t a real road, but merely a wandering wagon trail.
The following telegrams and letters are extracted in part from the
correspondence recorded in “The War of the Rebellion” compilation
of official records, published 1896. Many more volumes of dispatches were
prepared, but these are somewhat relative to the Bozeman Trail.
Major S S Curtis to General C B Fisk, August 27, 1864
The safest way to Kearny
is by Omaha.
General Curtis is still at Fort
Kearny, and I presume
will arrange to protect overland mail before he returns. I think there is no
unusual difficulty with Indians between Fort
Bridger and Montana, but that road never has been very
Major General Pope February 8, 1865 to Major General Halleck, Chief of
He reviewed the plan created by General Connor to
protect the territory and requested that he be placed in charge of all the
western area. He cited the need for the military to protect the wagon trains
passing through the Indian lands, and that the troops stationed in Kansas can be put to
Major General Pope to Major General Dodge, 8 February, 1865 11:40am
You are authorized to use my troops in Kansas to keep the Overland Trail
open. Please review the Connors plan for the whole area and advise.
Major General Dodge to Pope, February 8, 1865 2:45pm
There are two separate routes to Salt Lake
from Julesburg west, the Telegraph
Route by way of Fort
Laramie, and the Mail Route by way of Cache
la Poudre and Bridger’s Pass. Both of the routes have troops
stationed along them, making two weak lines instead of one strong one. All
stages go guarded from station to station, and am told that they are running
regularly. General Connor’s plan to station eight or ten men at each
station will not work now, as it would only be a bait to the Indians. I think
our troops should be kept at the forts and guards furnished the stages from one
fort to another as strong as the case may require. I will move troops from the Laramie Route to
the Bridger Route,
leaving a small garrison at Laramie,
and one or two others on Telegraph Line to protect it. Soon as I get answers to
my dispatches I will post you fully as to conditions of matters on the Platte Route.
Moonlight to Dodge, February 27, 1865, 10:15 am
Mail will be tonight for the first time. Is General
Connor coming here to take command?
Dodge to Connor, 27 February, 1865 3:45 pm
Go to Denver,
leaving District of Utah in charge of good officer. If you have spare troops
take them with you. I am moving up troops to strike Indians before grass grows.
Orders will meet you at Denver.
What about Indians on North Platte?
Connor to Dodge, March 3, 1865, 8:55 am
Will leave Denver
next Monday’s stage if I can procure forage. Will send two cavalry
companies to Fort
Halleck to await further
orders. I know nothing of whereabouts of
Indians, but believe they have gone to head of Yellowstone
to meet Crows and Blackfeet for general war in the spring.
President Abraham Lincoln, March 18, 1865 Proclamation
“Whereas reliable information has been
received that hostile Indians within the limits of the United States have been
furnished with arms and munitions of war by persons dwelling in foreign
territory, and are thereby enabled to prosecute their savage warfare upon the
exposed and sparse settlements of the frontier:
Now, therefore, be it known that I, Abraham
Lincoln, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim and
declare that all persons engaged in that nefarious traffic shall be arrested
and tried by court martial at the nearest military post, and if convicted shall
receive punishment due their deserts.
whereof I hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States
to be affixed.
Done at the city of Washington
this 17th day of March, A. D. 1865, and of the Independence
of the United States of
America the eight-ninth.”
Connor to Dodge, Denver,
March 20, 1865
I arrived last night. Your orders have not reached
Dodge to Connor in Denver,
March 29, 1865
Troops enroute to Laramie and Julesburg, with those on the
route, will give you 2,000 or over mounted men. I want this force pushed right
on after the Indians. There are 400
pack-mules with them. About May 1 General Sully will leave Sioux
City with a column and push west to Powder
River and establish a post there. We will have to supply that
column from Laramie.
Dodge to Connor in Denver,
March 29, 1865
The District of the Plains was formed so as to put
under your control the entire northern Overland
route and to render effective the troops along it. Depots should be designated
where we can put in one year’s supply.
These depots should be well fortified. The overland mail and telegraph
must be protected at all hazards, and no excuse be given or allowed for
stopping the mails. Order No. 41 from these headquarters prescribes manner of
organizing trains, etc., and you must see that no interference with emigrant or
private trains is allowed. You are a stranger to me, but I have placed you in
command, believing that you will bend all your energies to the common object
and infuse life, discipline, and effectiveness into the forces under you, and
give the Indians no rest.
Connor to Moonlight at Cottonwood, March
I am in command of District of the Plains, composed
of Districts of Utah, Colorado, and Nebraska; headquarters at Denver. Make no movement of troops until my
A W Hubbard Headquarters Northwest to Pope, May 26, 1865
Indians have concentrated at or near Bear Butte, on
the north side of Black Hills, nearly upon the route, which General Sully will
take from the Missouri to the Powder River, for the purposes of fighting him. This
seems to indicate that the future safety of our emigrant routes, and especially
the one which Superintendent Sawyer will open this season, will depend upon
General Sully’s carrying out his campaign as originally agreed upon
between yourself and him. The general has intimated to me confidentially that
an expedition in another direction is contemplated, and that the one planned
may for the present be abandoned. I hope that the expedition to the Black Hills
and the establishment of the post on Powder River may not be abandoned; for
though it may be very desirable to punish hostile Indians of Northeast Dakota,
after the preparations which have been made for the Black Hills Expedition and
the expectations thereby created, it would be very injurious to abandon it, and
I fear lead to serious results.
Pope to Dodge, June 10, 1865 1:20 pm
Where are the 1,200 men of Michigan Brigade? There
are now 900 horses on the river going to Leavenworth
in charge of the men from the Michigan Brigade.
Pope to Dodge, June 10, 1865 1:20 pm (2nd Transmittal)
Bear in mind about the post on Powder
River to be established by Connor. Your supply departments must
have supplies on hand for this purpose at Laramie.
Connor to Dodge, June 10, 1865
I am doing everything possible to hurry up the
expedition. There is not a horse in Laramie
for service. No grass there. Not a pound of corn has arrived. I am crossing the
Sixteenth Kansas over the Platte in a rickety
scow. The Sixth US Infantry is 100 miles east of here yet. My two California companies
have arrived, horses in good order. Will start north when corn arrives. Could
you not send me two regiments of infantry and two of cavalry who have more than
one year to serve to send to Utah?
Send one year’s clothing to Laramie
for Sixteenth Kansas. I may leave them at Powder River.
It has nearly two years to serve, and men are almost naked.
Dodge to Pope, June 10, 1865 4:20 pm
We are doing everything in our power to forward the
expedition. General Connor was instructed to strip his line of cavalry, which
he is doing. I am shipping column to Omaha,
which goes up Loup Fork, and thence north along east base of Black
Hills. General Connor goes with the other column along west base
and up Powder River. Both columns under his
command. Horses for brigade not arrived yet.
Dodge to Pope, June 10, 1865 11:15 pm
All the supplies for Powder
River post are well on their way there. I am sending a water-power
sawmill to be put up there. Since I have been here the quartermaster has sent
forward 2,000 wagons loaded with supplies for all points on the plains.
Dodge to Connor, June 10, 1865
I shall start from here by boats two regiments
(Twelfth Missouri & Second Missouri) to Omaha,
1,000 strong, with sixty days’ rations and transportation from the day
they leave Omaha.
They are ordered to march to Loup Fork as soon as both regiments reach Omaha and await instructions
there from you. They ought to be at Omaha
by Saturday next if they have good luck. Sawmill will be shipped to you.
Dodge to Connor, June 10, 1865
In the location of the post on Powder River have in
view the holding in check of the Indians, the possibility of obtaining forage,
hay, wood, etc., and its position with reference to a route of travel to
Montana, either from Fort Laramie or some point east, as well as the roads
coming west from Missouri River. You are aware that
such a road is being surveyed up the Niobrara; and also that an appropriation
exists for such a road from Fort Laramie to Virginia City up Powder
River and Big Horn.
… in the interests of the government you can make an informal
treaty for cessation of hostilities, appointing some place for meeting of
Indian Chiefs for having a full understanding with them, and myself or such
persons as the Government sees fit go there.
Dodge to Stagg, June 13, 1865
Soon as the 900 horses from St Louis arrive, you
will move your brigade to Julesburg, reporting there to General Connor,
commanding District of the Plains.
Dodge to Connor, June 13, 1865
Listing of commissary stores for Fort Laramie,
rations for 2,000 men for one year; Fort Kearny rations for 2,500 men for one
year, Powder River rations for 900 men for one year. 500,000 bushels of corn
for you command has been made and will be distributed as you commanded.
Dodge to Sanborn at Saint Louis, July 1, 1865
It is the desire of the Government to settle the
Indian difficulties this season. You will therefore push your troops into their
country and fight them wherever and whenever they can be found. You will allow
no outrages of any kind to be committed on our part.
Dodge Summary Report of Actions to Army Headquarters, July 18, 1865
General Connor has thus far exhibited marked
ability, and has assisted in bringing about these results, although in some of
his subordinates he has not been very ably assisted, and has had many
difficulties to contend with. The friendly Indians at Fort Laramie, in an attempt
to move them to Fort Kearny to get them away from the scenes of Indian
troubles, revolted, turned upon their guard, killed a captain and four men, and
then escaped. Colonel moonlight, who was sent after them, allowed his camp to
be surprised and his stock captured. I
have ordered him mustered out of the service. Everything, I think, now argues a
settlement of these Indian difficulties this summer.
In another spring fifty miles of the Union Pacific
Railroad west of Omaha will have been completed, leaving only 130 miles of land
travel to Fort Kearny, whereas we now have about 300 from Fort Leavenworth and
180 from Omaha.
Connor to Barnes at Fort Laramie, July 27, 1865
One thousand Indians attacked Platte Station on
Tuesday: been fighting two days. Lt Collins, Eleventh Ohio Cavalry, and 25 men,
Eleventh Kansas Cavalry, killed; 9 wounded. Bodies scalped and horribly
mutilated. Note on field, …. States that the Indians say they do not want
peace and expect an increase of 1,000 more to their force. They are now three
miles west destroying telegraph line. The left column is now enroute there; the
balance will leave in two days. I start for Platte Bridge myself Saturday. I
respectfully ask that something be done to hurry contractors. Ammunition
transferred to contractors months since and of which I am short, has not
arrived. I start on my expedition with scant supplies of stores and many
Pope to Dodge, July 28, 1865
If possible to make reliable treaty of peace with
Comanches, Kiowas, etc., do so. Sanborn has best see for himself what truth
there is in Leavenworth’s story. A permanent settlement of Indian
difficulties is what we want.
Dodge to Pope, July 29, 1865
Do you think I should recall General Sanborn? It
takes ten days to reach him. I put no faith in any treaty made with any of
those Indians until they are whipped and made to give up stolen stock. It
appears to me a treaty now is a bid for them to commence again as soon as we
take our troops off.
Dodge to Connor at Fort Laramie, July 31, 1865
You will see from General Pope’s dispatch
that Government thinks we are making too much cost. Your estimates are very
large. You ask for supplies for 17,000 men. We will not be able to keep over
half that number on the plains this winter. All supplies have gone forward,
except for Utah. Supplies for 2,500 men are waiting to go there.
Pope to Sanborn, August 4, 1865
Upon receipt of this order suspend movements
against Comanches, Kiowas, etc..
Pope to Dodge, August 7, 1865
I hear from several sources unpleasant news about
General Connor’s doings. Look into this matter carefully. I am loath to
believe anything to his discredit.
Dodge to Pope at Council Bluffs, August 7, 1865
Enclosed letter dated 31 July 1865 from Connor to
Pope. “I fear they do not understand in Washington what the necessities
of the service are here. I require a great many more supplies than I have
troops, as the nature of service keeps troops moving from posts far distant
from each other, and it is difficult to move stores in the winter. Unless I can end this war this fall the
present force will have to be kept up or the white people leave the
Pope to Dodge, August 11, 1865
I have just received copies of instructions from
General Connor to the commanders of his expedition, in which the following
words: “You will not receive overtures of peace or submission from
Indians, but will attack and kill every male Indian over twelve years of
age.” These instructions are atrocious and are in direct violation of my
repeated orders. You will please take immediate steps to countermand such
orders. If any such orders as General Connor’s are carried out it will
cost him his commission if not worse.
Pope to Price, August 11, 1865
Send forward following dispatches to General
Connor; and be governed by them:
To Brig, General Connor, In the Field:
governed by the following dispatches: “Major General Dodge:, General
Connor is ignoring the quartermaster and commissaries, and violating law and regulations
in making contracts himself and forcing officers to pay public money on them.
Stop all this business at once, and order all officers to conform to law and
Connor will carry out the instructions of General Pope and my orders heretofore
sent him. Dodge
Dodge to Price at Fort Laramie, August 15, 1865
Powder River I consider of great importance, and
you better take the infantry you want for that post out of the Sixth U. S.
Volunteers. That portion of the Fifth U. S. Volunteers with Colonel
Sawyer’s wagon party is ordered to report to you when he discharges them.
They must be in that country some place.
Dodge to Pope, August 16, 1865
I have received dispatches from General Connor, who
arrived on Powder River, 160 miles north of Fort Laramie, on the 11th.
Says it’s an important place and the winter quarters of the Indians. He
mad an excellent road to it. Has established post. Has met no Indians, but saw
plenty of heavy trails about one week old making toward line of march of center
column. At Powder River he leaves his base – trains to take stores to
last until October – and pushes right north to Panther Mountain,
following trail of Indians. His entire command is in excellent condition.
Dodge to Price, August 16, 1865
Where are the stores General Connor asks for? Have
they not arrived at Fort Laramie? Where is the sawmill? Ask if he knows where
the escort to Colonel Sawyer’s Wagon road party is he might get those
troops when Colonel Sawyer is through with them, and it will save long marches.
Price to Dodge, August 16, 1865
Stores are arriving. Do not know where sawmill is.
One sawmill was retained at Kearny by direction of the general. There is no
infantry with Connor, neither with any of his columns. Colonel Sawyer’s
escort consists of Companies C and D, Fifth US Volunteers, and a detachment fo
25 Dakota men, under command of Captain Williford, Fifth US Volunteers. The
route taken by the party will intersect the road from this place to Virginia
City at or near Powder River. The escort will not be required by Colonel Sawyer
after arriving at Big Horn River. Have telegraphed these facts to General
Sanborn to Dodge, August 17, 1865
.. in pursuance of telegraphic order from Major
General pope dated August 4, 1865, and received at Fort Larned at 11 pm, on the
7th, I addressed a communication to the chiefs of hostile tribes and
forwarded same to the mouth of the Little Arkansas, at which place the chiefs
and headmen of these tribes were assembled. I arrived tere on the 15th.
I was cordially received by the chiefs of the respective tribes, who manifested
the strongest desire for peace. An agreement for the cessation of hostilities
was entered into between them and myself.
The agreement was signed by
Little Mountain, Poor Bear, Over the Buttes, Big Mouth and General Sanborn.
Connor to Pope, August 20, 1865
Have received two telegrams of the 11th
from General Pope in reference to instructions to column commanders and
contracts in Utah. The general’s and your own instructions will be
implicitly obeyed. I hope on my return to give such explanations as will be
Connor to Cole & Walker, September 11, 1865, From Camp #27, Tongue
My scouts have just returned from Powder River, and
report having seena a large number of horses shot and ordnance property
destroyed at a camp of one or both of your columns on Powder River, sixty miles
east of here. I send you three scouts to tell you of my whereabouts and guide
you by the best route to me or Fort Connor, on Powder River.
Letter Endorsement – The scouts first sent
with this were driven back by Indians and returned last evening. You should
come over this river immediately. Send word to me, at all hazards, of your
condition on receipt of this. I will keep moving up this river at the rate of
fifteen miles a day.
Dodge to Pope, from Horse Shoe, September 15, 1865
Arrived here today on my return from Powder River.
The post is well located: right in the heart of Indian country. From Laramie to
Powder River, then to Virginia City, is an excellent wagon road; good grass,
water, and wood all way, and most direct road that can be got. The travel over
it in another season will be immense; it saves at least 450 miles in distance.
After the Indians attacked Sawyer’s wagon-road party and failed in their
attempt, they held a parley. Colonel Bent’s sons, George and Joe Bent
gave them a wagonload of goods to let him go undisturbed. Captain Williford,
commanding escort, not agreeing to it. The Indians accepted proposition and
agreed to it, but after receiving goods, they attacked party; killed three men.
Expressed great fear about Connor, and said they
were concentrating everything to meet him, which is true. Since he left no
Indians have troubled the mail or telegraph line, but are all moving north,
stragglers and all. At Fort Connor they kill a few of them as they pass every
few days. The Bent boys were educated in Saint Louis.
One has been with Price in Rebel army; was captured. His father got him
released and took him to his ranch on Arkansas River where he joined the
Cheyenne’s, of which he is a half-breed. He was dressed in one of our
staff officer’s uniforms.
Dodge to Wheaton at Fort Laramie, October 2, 1865
I will send to your Big Ribs and some of his head
Sioux. Consult with General Connor. Send them out to the Cheyennes and Sioux,
inviting them into Fort Connor of Laramie, as you deem best, for a talk on
cessation of hostilities and final peace. You and Connor can fix this. What I
want is to settle with them before they discover our force on the plains. You
can also say that all Indians south have made peace.
Dodge Summary Report to Army Headquarters, November 1, 1865
Colonel Sawyer’s wagon party endeavored this
season to find a road on this route through directly to Montana, via Powder
River and north of Little Horn River, but the obstacles met with determined
them to abandon it, and they struck south and took the road made and explored
by General Connor from Fort Laramie to base of Big Horn Mountains; thence to
Three Forks of the Missouri and thence to Virginia City. The new road, on which
Fort Connor is situated, saves in distance some 350 miles, making the distance
about 450 miles from Fort Laramie to Three Forks of the Missouri. The military
operations this summer have opened this road, and as soon as out Indian
troubles in that region are over it will be the great overland route from the
States to Montana. All travel concentrating from the different routes east of
Fort Laramie will take that road from this converging point. This road, I
believe, has an appropriation from Congress, when expended upon it, will make
it equal to any route over the plains and across the mountains.